The Lie Tree

Written by Frances Hardinge
Review by Linda Sever

1860s England, and Faith is the teenage daughter of an unsatisfactory marriage between a clergyman-naturalist father she adores and a vain, silly mother she despises and who keeps Faith in a training corset, and the big sister of a little boy in the process of being forced to give up his left-handedness. When her father falls off a cliff, and dies, Faith turns investigator, fixated on discovering the truth by finding and using a magical tree that feeds on lies but also dispenses knowledge. When she finds her disgraced father’s journals, filled with the notes and theories of a man driven close to madness, the quest for truth becomes even more dangerous.

Frances Hardinge is an astonishingly talented writer. She takes historical themes and takes a completely fresh approach to them, combining them into such readable novels. The Lie Tree combines ingredients of mystery, crime, ghosts and tales of growing up, and mixes them all together on a gothic island setting in the high-Victorian period. It comes as no surprise that it won the Costa Book Award in 2015.

The whole thing is fun and ingenious, with plenty of cliffhangers, even with a touch of feminism, through Faith’s pained awareness of the sexist attitudes that surround her. However, at the centre of the novel is the serious story of the Victorian struggle between science and religion, which Hardinge also explains so eloquently.

Highly recommended. Suitable for 12 plus.